Many accept that free will is something that we have. Many also believe that free will is a gift God has given us. For us to claim that God has done this, we must be sure, and have clear evidence. Too often we believe something without investigating to see if it is true. We should ask: does the Bible teach that we have a will, or an agency, that is free? Answer: No.
I say this because the meaning of the word ‘free’. In order for something to be free it must have nothing that hinders anything it does. A ‘free will’ would mean we have a will in us, that God cannot control, nor act upon to change. Is this not the logical end of a ‘free’ will? For our will to indeed be free, means that nothing can stop it, and nothing can hinder any action it desires to accomplish. This means no one, even God, can stop the will of man. This idea is not taught in the Bible, in fact, the opposite is taught in many places. Here are some examples:
-Everything (notice that ‘all’ or ‘everything’ means that nothing is not included in it) works according to God’s will, not ours. (Ephesians 1:11b)
-A man makes plans, but God directs our steps. (Proverbs 16:1, 9, 33, 19:21, 20:24)
-A man’s heart turns where God wants it to turn. (Proverbs 21:1, 2 Chronicles 30:6-12)
-A man’s way is not in himself. (Jeremiah 10:23)
So what about our choices? People seem to choose what they want to do, and where they want to go. This is clear. But does this mean we have a ‘free’ will? 2 Corinthians 8:16-17 teaches us about this:
“But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord.”
We see many things here. Titus went to Corinth on his own accord (or of his own will), because he was earnest and he accepted their appeal. Why was he earnest? Why did he accept the Corinthians appeal? Because God put it into his heart. Thus we say: Because God put it into Titus’ heart, Titus went of his own will.
We do not have a will that is ‘free’. God can and does, have power to change, direct, guide, ordain, lead, our wills; and this should give us hope. Because God, can triumph over our sin loving wills to create a will in us that is earnest for Himself, and His Son.
Ask God to do this in you.
There is a popular Michael W. Smith song that has been playing on the radio for many years, in which the chorus says, “Like a rose, trampled on the ground, You (Jesus) took the fall, and thought of me, above all.” This song is called Above All, and its main point is that above every reason Jesus came to die on the cross, humans were #1. Is this true? Did Jesus die first and foremost for me? Did Jesus think of me before He thought of God? The song would like us to believe this is true. I am going to try and persuade you that thinking Jesus died for us first, is not true, nor honoring to God.
Jesus did die for us, but not above all else. Jesus died, first and foremost, for God’s glory. Two questions arise from this:
1) Where does the Bible say this? & 2) Why does this matter so much?
Let’s take one at a time:
First, where does the Bible say that Jesus died for God’s glory above all? Ezekiel 36:22-23 says “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their midst.” What do we learn from this verse? God is about to act, not for the sake of His people, but for the sake of His great name. What is He about to do? God is acting to prove, vindicate, and show Himself holy and righteous in the sight of all the nations. Why? So that the nations will know that He is God, because of the mighty work He is about to do within Israel.
What is this action that God is referring to? God is referring to an action where He will prove Himself righteous. When did God prove Himself righteous most explicitly? On the cross. Romans 3:25-26, “God displayed (Jesus) publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the patience of God He passed over sins previsouly committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” What do we learn from this verse? God’s action described in Ezekiel takes place on the cross. On the cross, God proved Himself holy, by killing His Son, and not those who sinned against Him and profaned His name. Therefore, first and foremost, Jesus died on the cross to prove that God was holy. Remember what God said about how He was going to act? ”It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name…” God sent Jesus to die, for the sake of His great name, to show that He was still righteous.
Now, why does it matter so much that we believe this? If we believe that Jesus died for us first, than we have to believe that Jesus saw greater pleasure in dying for us than in dying to prove His Father holy. It is blasphemy to say that Jesus desires us before He desires God! Do not get me wrong, Jesus did die for us, and our sin was on Him on the cross. Jesus was not thinking of our sin and salvation above everything else. Jesus on the cross, above all other things, was dying to show that God is still holy. Jesus died for God.
What am I trying to say? For so long, the people that God had redeemed out of Egypt, the very people that had been chosen for Himself, had done so much sin in the sight of all the nations, so much that when the other nations looked at Israel, they said, ‘Israel’s god is a joke, he isn’t holy if his people live like that!’ God saw it, and He would not stand for this any longer, He is jealous for His glory and will not allow it to be trampled any longer! One day God will act to vindicate His name of all the guilt, and will clear His name of all the profaning that had come to it. No longer will God be made to look foolish because of His obstinate people! One day, God will be the One who acts to vindicate His holiness! He will do this for His name’s sake, not yours! Not mine! How will He do it? He will prove Himself holy, publicly, in the sight of all the nations! Most of us know Psalm 46:10 but we don’t know the end of the verse, “Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” This is the promise that God has pledged Himself to keep and because it is God behind the promise, it cannot fail! In Romans 3:25-26, we see this breathtaking scene described when God acted to vindicate His own name by crushing His Son so that God would be seen as righteous!
Lord cause us to love this truth in place of man-centered substitutes, in Jesus name, amen.
I often hear people tell me, “You have to try to get into the center of God’s will” and then proceed to make a comment about someone who they think is not in the will of God. I think a lot when people say these things, especially when they’re said to me. Think about this with me:
If God is absolutely sovereign (which He is), is it possible to be out of His will? Eph 1:11b says God “works all things after the counsel of His own will.” So, if God “works all things after the counsel of His own will” than nothing works after the counsel of mine, right? Correct. Okay, than if nothing works after the counsel of my will, and all things work after the counsel of God’s will, can I ever be out of God’s will? Yes. And no. You see the issues going through my mind now don’t you?
This is a serious question, because if all things work according to God’s will, than what does that mean for sin? Does God, in His sovereignty, allow me to sin? Does God, in His sovereignty, allow others to sin? The answer to thia is an emphatic “yes.” In orthodox Christian theology, it has always been recognized that the will of God is the ultimate cause of all things. In this discussion there has also been a helpful distinction within the will of God, His decretive will, and His preceptive will.
The decretive will, or the will of decree, is the will in which God purposes or decrees whatever comes to pass. No matter what language you use for it (causes, permits, allows, or ordains) it all means that God actively decrees all events, big or small, good or bad, everywhere. Some have called this the ‘secret’ will of God, using verses like Deut. 29:29 to do so.
The preceptive will, or the will of precepts (commands), is the will in which God lays down the rule of life for His creatures, indicating the duties He has commaded them to do. This rule is found in the Bible.
Back to our question: Can I be out of God’s will? No, speaking in terms of His decretive will I am always going to be in the place God’s wants me to be, doing whatever it is that I am doing, good or bad. Speaking in terms of His preceptive will, Yes I can be out of God’s will by my disobedience to God’s Word.
Now to the main issue this brings to the surface. If all things work according to God’s will, than what does that mean for sin? Does God, in His sovereignty, allow me to sin? Does God, in His sovereignty, allow others to sin? The answer must be YES, God does allow me and others to sin (in His decretive will). When God does this, we must be sure to be responsible with the Bible and take care to say that God does not tempt me to sin nor is God at fault for my sin (James 1:13-15).
Is this hard to swallow? Yes for many reasons, one of which is that this shows that free-will is not an option for Bible believeing Christians. Listen to Augustine, he will calm your mind: “Evil men do many things contrary to God’s revealed (preceptive) will; but so great is His wisdom, and so inviolable His truth, that He directs all things into these channels which He foreknew (in His decretive will).”
Quotes like this have made verses like Matthew 10:29-31 very sweet to me. It is here that I feast upon my sovereign God, who works all things out in the best possible way for my best possible good (Romans 8:28), and for His maximum glory!